iOWH is working to develop safe, effective and affordable new medicines that treat people with infectious diseases, with particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa where cases of malaria are at endemic proportions.
To further treatment development the Artemisinin Enterprise, a project set up by the iOWH in conjunction with Sanofi-Aventis and Amyris, has committed to produce semi-synthetic artemisinin on an industrial scale.
Artemisinin is a key ingredient in first line malaria treatments. The goal is to commercialise artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) containing the ingredient by 2012.
In order to keep costs to a minimum, a new, low cost technology platform has been developed to produce artemisinin. The technology, based on synthetic biology, engineers the industrial synthetic microbe for large scale manufacturing.
Artemisinin production represents a significant proportion of the manufacturing cost of ACTs and the therapy is considerably more expensive than the drugs they are replacing. This represents a major barrier to their effective deployment.
It is hoped that developing a semi-synthetic version of artemisinin will meet future demand by supplementing the current botanical supplies derived from the sweet wormwood tree that grows in many parts of the world.
Artemisinin is derived from the medicinal plant Artemisia annua, but yields from the plant are low and supplies are uneven causing the price of artemisinin to become extremely volatile and variable in quality.
By diversifying the sources of artemisinin the initiative believes it can prevent the cyclical fluctuations in prices which currently occur.
The partnership also aims to address other supply chain problems such as stability, leakage to the black market; counterfeiting, distribution, and private sector regulation that they believe hinder the production of affordable ACTs.
Funding and target regions
Significant financial backing has been provided to the initiative, including a $42.6 (€33.9m) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation back in December 2004. This latest round of semi synthetic artemisinin research and development has received a $10.7m grant.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria causes 300 to 500m acute illnesses and over 1m deaths annually. Ninety per cent of deaths due to malaria occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there is also high prevalence in countries of Asia and Latin America.
iOWH, based in San Francisco, California, has committed to providing ACTs as the first-line treatment for malaria, a policy currently adopted by 69 countries.